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Proposed Md. law pushes for transparency in auto safety issues

Amber Rose. (Family photo/WJLA)

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (WJLA) – One of the biggest flaws of the automobile industry is the veil of secrecy related to the problems with cars.

Just last week, Takata, the maker of faulty air bags in millions of vehicles, appeared willing to pay $14,000 a day in fines, rather than hand over documents that could leave it facing even more fines.

A Maryland state law is being proposed by a Montgomery County legislator to give dealers the protections they need to disclose critical safety information.

Right now, manufacturers collect information about problems and report them to the feds. But a proposed bill in Annapolis would make sure consumers know about problems when the car companies know—not years later, when a recall finally happens.

Laura Christian will never get her daughter back, but the smiling teenager whose picture she carries can be a warning for others.

“I’ll never stop missing her,” Christian said. “She’ll never go to college. She’ll never have a husband, she’ll never have children. And all because of a hidden safety defect.”

Sixteen-year-old Marylander Amber Rose was killed in a 2005 car accident; seven years later, the same make and model car she was driving was part of a massive General Motors recall, because of problems with its ignition switch.

Christian says she believes that information could have saved her daughter.

“It would have saved hundreds of lives, not just my daughter’s,” she said.

A proposed Maryland law Christian testified about could change that. Sponsors say it’s designed to give consumers more information about safety problems before they rise to the level of a recall, which can take years.

“The way to fix that is disclosure—sunshine,” said D.C.-area car dealer Jack Fitzgerald. “Sunshine is good for everybody.”

Fitzgerald says the bills would let dealers talk about safety issues long before there’s a recall. He says they often know of problems before then, because of internal service bulletins they can’t disclose to the public.

“Consumers need to know about things that affect their car,” he said.

Bill opponents say this is a federal issue, not a state one, and that safety information should come from one source—the manufacturers.

“You can’t have 20,000 car dealers giving them conflicting information about what they think they know,” said Peter Kitzmiller, of the Maryland Automobile Dealers Association.

These bills are just under consideration; there was no vote Tuesday, and it could be weeks before it is known whether the proposals will move on.

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